Untangling From ‘Reference Experiences’

Experiences, either positive or negative, that shape us — those from which we derive a sense of self and meaning — become set points in our lives. So often we then filter our perceptions of the world to fit those stories, and we either struggle to get rid of or strive to recreate those compelling reference experiences.

Both are prisons.

Both bind the mind into a kind of stasis, and with the adhesive force of gravity. One draws to us experiences we are trying to avoid or resolve and the other leaves us constantly attempting to recreate the past out of a sense of lack and longing.

At first glance, these “reference experiences” are something to overcome, resolve or put to rest. From one perspective, we see them as attractors that pull us from the present moment and all it has to offer. But these experiences also define us because they are the stories we love to tell. The wounds we aren’t quite ready to heal. The tales of woe or wonder or enchantment that have served as stepping-stones that give meaning and trajectory to our lives.

Our reference experiences are what make us uniquely who we are. Who would we be without them?

They are the guiding stars by which we navigate our values, preferences, goals and aspirations. They as much open a world to us as they close us off from all other options. They help us to know who we are and who we are not, but they also limit who we might be.

These experiences orient us and set our stance toward life. They are the bones of what we stand for or against. At the same time, even as they open a sense of what the world is, they limit us, much as our five senses open a world to us by perceiving certain wavelengths of light or ranges of sound and at the same time leave us blind to that which our senses can not touch.
We use language to organize our thoughts, naming things and creating mental constructs. But anything outside the name, anything outside the construct, becomes walled off from the realm of possibility. There are religious traditions that suggest you don’t name the divine, not because it is evil to do so, but because our minds can only grasp so much. When you name something, everything outside that name becomes unavailable.

Reference experiences act as a pivot that organizes the orbit of our lives around the gravity of their influence. We constantly circle around these experiences; their influence is the constant silent whisper behind our thinking. They are the touchstones by which we judge all experience. And they are so hardwired that we fail to notice they also are lenses that filter our perception.

Knowing we don’t know leaves the door open to possibilities that our mind, with its reference experiences, cannot possibly imagine. That’s not to say we don’t acknowledge or accept the importance of reference experiences, but we are better served by noting their influence with a gentle heart that dissolves their stasis and allows for movement into a deeper wave of connection and possibility.

DIY Acupuncture, Unsticking a Stiff Neck

There is good solid “channel theory” for why this works, but you don’t need to be schooled in that for this technique to help you unkink that crick in your neck. Maybe you’ve slept at some odd angle or spent too much time hunched over a computer. Either way, a bit of self-massage is all you need to unstick the logjam of discomfort that keeps your head from gliding on its pivot.

All you need to do is find a couple of sensitive points on your forearm, and give them a nice firm massage.

Where are these magic points?

Technically they are located on the Heart channel. To find the Heart channel, draw an imaginary line from the outside corner of the little finger down to the bone that sticks out on the inside of your elbow. Then starting from the elbow, palpate toward the little finger for some spots that are either tender or feel like there are grainy nodules under the skin.

Give these places a slow, firm rub with the thumb. At the same time, slowly and gently move your head back and forth or do figure eights with your nose. When you have the right points, your neck will quickly begin to release as you gently move your head.

Which side should I use?

It depends — whichever side has the more tender points tends to be the side where the acupressure will be more effective.

Many times there is almost instantaneous relief. Even if that is the case, massage and rotate your head for 3 to 5 minutes. Even if your neck is not sore, if you work long hours at a computer it’s a good idea to give yourself this gentle treatment for a few minutes to improve blood flow to your neck and shoulders and also to prevent headaches, eyestrain and fatigue. Try it out!



The latest show from
Everyday Acupuncture Podcast


Using Acupuncture to Enhance Sports Performance

Acupuncture is a go-to treatment for musculo-skeletal pain and a commonly used modality for treating sports injuries.

NFL stars, Olympic swimmers, basketball players and other top athletes increasingly turn to acupuncture to help with recovery from injury as evidenced by the occasional headline or picture that gives acupuncture another 15 minutes of fame because some sports hero has needles in them.

Our guest in this episode takes a different view of acupuncture. She is investigating how it can be used for performance enhancement. Listen in as we discuss the results of her first study into using various acupuncture modalities focused not on recovery from injury, but rather as a way to improve sports performance.


Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.

We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

—Steven Pressfield



Ku Gua, Bitter Melon

for Summer Heat and Blood Sugar

You will not find this wrinkly, blistered cucumber-like vegetable at your local American supermarket. You’re going to have to locate an Asian food market to find Ku Gua, also known as bitter melon – and it’s worth the effort.

Its crunchy, watery texture puts it in the realm of a cucumber or melon. It has a bit of tang like you would expect from something citrus. But Ku Gua’s deep, long, melt of cool bitter will take you into a moment of deep embodied sensation that leaves your synapses struggling for a comparison. But there is nothing quite like it.

Sliced paper thin and eaten on a hot, damp-infused afternoon, Ku Gua brings a moment of cool to the entire body, like a random wafted current of air conditioning. The Chinese materia medica categorizes Ku Gua as a food/medicinal that relieves summer heat. You can think of it as concentrated enriched essence of watermelon, with the acridity of a winter midnight just before a snowstorm. It’s a poem of welcomed cool bitterness in the midst of summer swelter.

Sliced a bit thicker still, and marinated in rice vinegar and a dash of aromatic sesame oil, it opens the appetite and makes for a natural digestive. A few slices after a heavy meal can reduce the bloating and discomfort of overeating.

Finally, imbibed regularly, Ku Gua can help with blood sugar control. It’s helpful for individuals with diabetes looking to get a handle on their blood sugar, especially if you are interested in using fresh food to eat your way out of Type II diabetes.

The Chinese say that health results from the ability to taste the five flavors. Our sweet-attuned American palate leaves out bitter, and yet it is one of the flavors that helps to regulate our digestive system. It is a good antidote to our overconsumption of sweets, and serves as a delightful cool breeze that can stir from the inside out on a muggy summer afternoon.


Give Yong Kang Clinic a Review

I’m not sure when we started relying on the opinions of people we don’t know. It is one of the curiosities of the Internet! Then again, it just might be like trying to discern if a restaurant is worth your time and money; you stop by and peek in to see whether it is busy or not. Regardless, in our search engine-mediated world, reviews help people decide whether a particular product or service is for them — or not.

In light of this reality, I have a favor to ask of you.

Would you be willing to write a review for Yong Kang clinic? I ask not just because it could help my business (though for that I would be deeply grateful), but also because your review can help others who have not had acupuncture to better understand how it can be helpful.

If you are not a patient, but are an avid reader of the newsletter, then a review about that would be great as well!

How do you write a review?

Most of us have a lot to say, until we actually put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard. Then, many of us freeze up. Writing a review is actually quite simple. Just write down what you have said to friends or family about your experience with acupuncture. It’s that simple. Your authentic, natural voice is all you need!

Yelp and Google are the 800-pound gorillas of Internet reviews. I’d really appreciate it if you’d take a few minutes and share your experience of acupuncture or the newsletter on one of them.

Here are direct links to each.

Take me to Google reviews.
I’d rather leave a review on Yelp.

Thank you!

The hope that a human being can achieve complete honesty and self-knowledge with regard to themselves is a fiction and a chimera, the jargon and goals of a corporate education system brought to bear on the depths of an identity where the writ of organization language does not run.

Self-knowledge includes that the self we want to know is about to disappear.

What we can understand is the way we occupy this frontier between the known and the unknown, the way we hold the conversation of life, the figure we cut at that edge, but a detailed audit of the self is not possible and dimities us in the attempt to establish it; we are made on a grander scale, half afraid of ourselves, half in love with immensities beyond any name we can give.


—David Whyte, Self-knowledge